About Me

My Photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The "change the subject" defence of God

As I mentioned during last week's "non-debate" about the Problem of Evil at the University of Melbourne, one favourite response from religious believers, since they have no intellectually plausible solution to the problem, is to change the subject and talk about something else, such as the significance of the cross. My Christian interlocutors then proceeded to do a certain amount of this, as I predicted,

But here's Andrew Sullivan offering a perfect example in response to my most recent blog post on the subject. All very well, Andrew, but it's simply not responsive to the paragraph that you quote from my blog, which seems to me to have gone unrefuted.

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sullivan writes, "I have never found the theodicy argument against faith convincing."

Apparently because he doesn't understand the argument or what a theodicy is, but that doesn't stop him from brushing it off with five boneheaded sentences. Intellectual honesty indeed.

Brian said...

Russell, in answer to you suggestion that the problem of evil should force intellectually honest theists to dump their belief in a omni-benevolent, omnipotent god, I suggest you consider the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. QED.

Scott Hedges said...

Look, lets not get to trashing Andrew round these parts, there are few people as willing to be honest as Andrew and agree with him or not, he's not dishonest, he's not anything other than a the best that humanity has to offer.

Andrew, simply is doing what Barney and Rev. Pete did to Russell. "I see no reason that God has to conform to your mind games". To be fair, Andrew is right, this all knowing all powerful god is something we want god to be. The god in the bible is in some kind of war with other gods, he has to negotiate with Adam, his people are constantly doing all kinds of crazy stuff ... he's all the time laying on the natural disasters and helping out in wars ...

What I don't understand is why Andrew can't accept that his cross and that ceiling etc ... are all "cultural stories" ...

I just spent two years in Sweden. In the woods there was a temple to Odin. Everyone thinks Odin is like some "myth" ... but he was a real God, I've been to his house. He is just a cultural story.

Andrew is clearly capable of thinking that tribal people have cultural stories (that they really believe), but for whatever reason he has to insist that Christ on the Cross isn't a cultural story.

Someday maybe he'll help me understand why ... I'm listening.

Scott Hedges said...

I want to revise that, Andrew is having a bad day. He has been so exemplary on torture. Then low and behold:

But it also teaches me that suffering in itself can be a means of letting go to God, of allowing Him to take over, of recognizing one's own mortality and limits.

He goes and lays a line on us that is like right out of the Christian justification for torture ... the pain is redemptive, it helps the victim let go, and surrender to god.

When you think about the barbarity of this sentiment, that suffering is a way to know God ... you have to shudder a bit don't you? It is a barbaric sentiment. I refuse to believe that Andrew said that.

Brian said...

But it also teaches me that suffering in itself can be a means of letting go to God, of allowing Him to take over, of recognizing one's own mortality and limits.

So, we should go out and torture all we can? We should start wars, nothing can bring suffering like a good war. God must love war, he can take over a hell of a lot then.

Brought to you by the Orwellian ministry of peace and love.

Scott Hedges said...

Really, that was the logic that the church used - pain, controlled pain, like the kind that Bush and Cheney wanted to use, not lethal pain, from the very early days the church's torture was painful but not lethal, execution was a sign of failure to save the soul ... but careful pain, was to assist the accused of "surrendering" ... in the Church's case, it means surrendering to God ... of course the important thing is that the priest hears it.

Anonymous said...

I'll ask again, what problem of evil?

As I noted elsewhere, one can always imagine a worse world, no matter how bad you have it (or conversely, a better world no matter how good you got it). If every conceivable universe is subject to such criticism, the criticism itself becomes meaningless.

In a hypothetical better universe its inhabitants may be complaining about paper cuts and showers that ruin their picnics - and wonder why a kind and loving God allows such horrors to occur. Conversely, the inhabitants of a worse universe then ours would consider our world to be paradise and scornfully dismiss our complaints.

The "problem of evil" is a meaningless question based on a fallacy - the assumption that a meaningfully better universe is possible.

Tulse said...

"The "problem of evil" is a meaningless question based on a fallacy - the assumption that a meaningfully better universe is possible."

Again, so much for the possibility of heaven.

Jerry Coyne said...

Scott,

We aren't trashing ANDREW; we are trashing his lame justification of suffering. It doesn't matter whether he makes these ludicrous arguments or someone else. Nobody is sacred.

And I've gone after his theodicy on my website.

Gingerbaker said...

"But it also teaches me that suffering in itself can be a means of letting go to God, of allowing Him to take over, of recognizing one's own mortality and limits"

Stockholm syndrome?

Steve Zara said...

Personally, I'm not that interested in the theodicy argument. It's a game that theists will never admit they have lost to the extent of becoming atheist.

But something that did amuse me in Sullivan's post was classic theist obfuscatory language:

"It is simply the paradox of the cross."

It's like "We come to God through Christ", or "we live in Jesus". Just words thrown together into phrases that have a certain feel, but mean nothing.

Gingerbaker said...

"In a hypothetical better universe its inhabitants may be complaining about paper cuts and showers that ruin their picnics - and wonder why a kind and loving God allows such horrors to occur."

In the real world, one can tell the difference between a paper cut and a child dying in agony from disease.

When a god worth worshiping appears, I'll be first in line. Until then, YAHWEH gives every appearance of not existing.

Anonymous said...

When a god worth worshiping appears, I'll be first in line.

Well then, describe a God that is "worth worshiping". Describe the structure of a universe that would prompt you to believe in God. How much freedom and life are you ready to surrender so that the universe achieves "perfection"?

Like the Beatles said, "We'd all love to see the plan."

Anonymous said...

Again, so much for the possibility of heaven.


Heaven is defiend as a non-physical place located outside of time.

So you comment earns you a big "N/A".

Ophelia Benson said...

But it also teaches me that suffering in itself can be a means of letting go to God, of allowing Him to take over, of recognizing one's own mortality and limits.

Oh yeah? And that applies to animals does it?

Greywizard said...

Are there two Anonymouses here? Or did the one Anonymouse not notice that his first message disgagrees with his second?

Tulse said...

"Heaven is defiend as a non-physical place located outside of time."

Right, and your god could have presumably created the entire universe so that it resembled heaven, and provided every person with the kind of bliss that it allegedly entails. Heaven is an existence proof of the possibility of life without suffering.

(And I very much doubt that you really want to argue that heaven is "outside of time", since that would presumably mean that, like the Talking Heads sang, it's a place where nothing ever happens -- literally.)

Moses said...

Look, lets not get to trashing Andrew round these parts, there are few people as willing to be honest as Andrew and agree with him or not, he's not dishonest, he's not anything other than a the best that humanity has to offer.

Are you high? He's a libertarian hack who routinely spouts his silly and widely discredited economic beliefs as fact. He routinely rants about "the government" and how "unfair" taxes are, yet his entire livelihood, as well as the civilization in which he lives, is dependent on the result of multiple government programs and regulations to keep him educated, healthy and living free.

In fact, if it wasn't for the big government he so despises, he probably would started work at 8 and lived a life of ignorance and poverty, until he died at the ripe old age of 45 in some English factory sweatshop. Unless, of course, he did it on a farm. Or was to the manor born. Because, by and large a life of toiling in poverty, on the farm or in the factory, is what most people could look forward to from a very young age.

When it comes to his catholicism, he's worse. He doesn't shout and screm like Donohue, but he defends the Catholic in those abuse cases. Somewhat differently, but with every intent to minimize and sweep the global conspiracy to protect child-raping priests under the rug.

Anonymous said...

Right, and your god could have presumably created the entire universe so that it resembled heaven,

Which means He never would have created the physical universe at all - which renders your whole point moot.

Tulse said...

Which means He never would have created the physical universe at all - which renders your whole point moot.

Huh? Why is the physical universe a necessity in the first place? I thought we were discussing whether suffering was necessary, and my point was that it clearly isn't in the Christian worldview, since heaven exists.

I also don't see you arguing why the physical universe could not have been created with the relevant heavenly qualities (namely, lack of suffering).

jdhuey said...

Heaven is defiend [sic] as a non-physical place located outside of time.

And exactly how is that different than being non-existent?

Scott Hedges said...

@ Ophelia Benson,

Did you see back at the Dish, some poster deals sort of deals with your "what about animals" question, by suggesting that the "fall" was when things got ugly out there in "creation"!

"Andrew call's Rick Warren's God out for being a Pokey finger God"

Ophelia if you had been homeschooled you might have avoided the wicked "Zallinger Mural" that has corrupted so many minds ... wicked because it so boldly suggests another version of eden, in which featured in the center is a carnivore tearing flesh ... right in the center! As if that is the point of God's Love?

Science you say! Pshaw, these men knew exactly what they were up to,

"Professor York later told me that Thompson had stated, “That wall is the most important one since the 15th century” — debatable, of course, but, considering the source, most gratifying.

Eden, as we all know, plainly looked looked like this: A Peaceable Kingdom

As for my defense of Andrew, I was only reacting to the first comment that said Sullivan "didn't understand" ... I'm all for thrashing Andrew's positions ... and I think if you've been following his views on the USA and torture, it is interesting to ask him why humans, who seek to serve God, should not use torture to help heretics "surrender" ... that is clearly the justification that the church used for "torture".

I suppose Andrew would say, yes, but those centuries of Papal authority were based on a mistake! We now know that faith is only meaningful if it is "freely chosen", and we have no justification to "force" others to accept our views, because we now have had time to read the bible more closely ...

Scott Hedges said...

Come to think of it this whole "spare the rod" argument, that has animated many a good Christian is biblical:

"He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

Cheney, simply argues that he who spareth the waterboard, hateth his country, for he who you waterboard under medical supervision, shall not die, and you will deliver your country from a mushroom cloud. (Cheney 9/11) and Andrew finds this logic unacceptable. Whatever Andrew calls faith - isn't biblical, it is a deep emotional attachment to ideas, people, institutions ...

Just how biased does one have to be in their view of human condition, to say that humans began their "intimation of God, nascent in their long march of human existence only in the last couple thousand years, and unleashed most amazingly in the person of Jesus of Nazareth".

Yes, no marching going on in India, Japan, or China, no marching in MesoAmerica, or Indonesia ... the long march of Humans that was "authorized by God" is a march from Palestine, though Rome, brief stopover in the UK, on to DC, then Utah for the really, really amazing unleashing ... excuse me I have to go stop my kids from reading Guns Germs and Steel.

Scott Hedges said...

correction, that should have been he who you "waterboardeth" ...

Anonymous said...

"We'd all love to see the plan." - and we are still waiting.

Stuart said...

Well then, describe a God that is "worth worshiping". Describe the structure of a universe that would prompt you to believe in God. How much freedom and life are you ready to surrender so that the universe achieves "perfection"?

Joss Whedon. He gave me firefly.

Anyway this argument can be quickly refuted by assuming one of the following
a) God is not all powerful
b) There are multiple gods
c) Who said anything about perfection?

(Most) Atheists do not claim that they are 100% certain there no such thing as any sort of God. They claim that, on the whole, there is more evidence to suggest there is not.

Anyway it all besides the point. Andrew is a jackass. That's my take on things.

J.J.E. said...

Like the Beatles said, "We'd all love to see the plan

Methinks someone doesn't understand the concept of the burden of proof. Atheists don't insist on a god of infinite power, knowledge, and love. Many theists do. And the claim that paper cuts would be the new genocide makes a mockery of both the secular and the biblical undestanding of evil. The issue isn't the definition of evil, but the hypocrisy of god and the inconsistency of the bible.

Tulse said...

"We'd all love to see the plan." - and we are still waiting.

Funny, I'm still waiting for someone to explain why their god couldn't make physical existence like heaven -- or just skip the whole physical existence thing altogether, and let us all hang out in paradise.

Chris Schoen said...


Funny, I'm still waiting for someone to explain why their god couldn't make physical existence like heaven -- or just skip the whole physical existence thing altogether, and let us all hang out in paradise.


Tulse,

Have you ever noticed that in literature angels and other immortals are always jealous of humanity? (in fact this is given as the reason for the fall of Lucifer.)

The reason why a creator God wouldn't "skip the whole physical existence thing" is that incarnation is life. It's physical, and therefore finite, and therefore subject to loss and great tragedy, but it affords experience in a way that etheriality cannot. It's therefore an act of love to offer it.

It seems to me that the "problem of evil" is just a version of the question "why isn't everything exactly the way we want it?"

I think there is a lot of projection on this thread about what Sullivan is saying. He is not arguing that suffering is "really" something to be desired; rather he's describing a possible approach to it. I think you will see the truth of it on a certain level if you replace the ultimate horrors in this conversation with lesser sufferings.

An important question arises, if we all agree that some sufferings are just simply excessive, simply too much: Where, and how, do we draw the line (or judge the drawing of a line) between the kinds of modest hardship we all accept and often even grow from (e.g. losing a job) and the kind of deep horror that treats life as mere wastage (e.g. tsunamis)? Does anyone here think this is an easy problem?

J.J.E. said...

An important question arises, if we all agree that some sufferings are just simply excessive, simply too much: Where, and how, do we draw the line (or judge the drawing of a line) between the kinds of modest hardship we all accept and often even grow from (e.g. losing a job) and the kind of deep horror that treats life as mere wastage (e.g. tsunamis)? Does anyone here think this is an easy problem?

But again, the problem of evil isn't one for non theists. It is a problem for the believers. We don't posit that "drawing a line" is even a meaningful exercise. To discuss that, you must first agree there is a god.

Tulse said...

The reason why a creator God wouldn't "skip the whole physical existence thing" is that incarnation is life. It's physical, and therefore finite, and therefore subject to loss and great tragedy, but it affords experience in a way that etheriality cannot. It's therefore an act of love to offer it.

Heaven is presented as the ultimate goal, the most desirable end-state of existence. One's time in heaven is infinite -- by that standard, one's period of physical existence is literally infinitesimal. How important can it be if it makes up practically nothing of one's experiences? And if heavenly existence is so lacking, how can it be perfect?

Chris Schoen said...

J.J.E.,

I disagree. Russell specifically invokes the P of E as evidence against the existence of God. That makes the logic of it pertinent to atheists.

Tulse,

If you are looking for a theodicy that will accord with every known theological interpretation, it will be a long search. I don't know how Sullivan feels about heaven. The last pope called it (along with hell) a metaphor, not a location in spacetime.

I agree that if heavenly existence resembles earthly existence to such a recognizable degree, then it obviates it. There is the question of how literally we should take the afterlife, but I don;t think it is central to the P of E.

Anonymous said...

There is the question of how literally we should take the afterlife, but I don;t think it is central to the P of E.

So you're willing to dump heaven in order to preserve the plausibility of god-produced suffering? You're willing to abandon the notion that suffering will be rewarded? Heck, you're willing to jettison the whole idea of salvation? I would think that should tell you just how knotty the problem of evil is, if it means excising such an important part of traditional Christianity in order to maintain logical consistency. (It also means losing one of the standard explanations of suffering, that it is nothing compared to the benefits that await the faithful.)

Chris Schoen said...

Anonymous,

I'm not making things up out of whole cloth here. It's mainstream (but not unanimous or universal) Christian theology that heaven is not a literal reward, that is, not a place you "go" after death. Many people believe it, yes, but many also believe atoms are little solar systems and a bunch of other Cliffs Notes versions of scientific truths. Thoughtful discussions on both topics can proceed despite these simplifications.

I do concede that literal heaven (Or hell) as a second life is problematic both in terms of theodicy and in other regards. But the afterlife is not a necessary consequence of a creator god. There's not much emphasis on salvation in the OT, for example.

I also didn't characterize suffering as God-produced (as in "God sent a tsunami"). I implied it was a logical consequence of pleasure (a Buddhist would say of attachment to pleasure.) Once you consider that suffering and joy are aspects of meaning and not ontological entities this becomes more evident.

You do get at a notion of fairness or justice here and I think that is important. That many innocent people, including infants, are killed in disasters and have other tragedies befall them means that God cannot be fair in the sense of meting justice with equanimity. But this is a separate matter from whether God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, which is how Epicurus and others originally formulated the problem, and how Russell does so now.

Tulse said...

It's mainstream (but not unanimous or universal) Christian theology that heaven is not a literal reward, that is, not a place you "go" after death.

This ex-Catholic was certainly taught that heaven is real, and I am willing to bet that, outside of the ivory tower and theology schools, most Christian believers adhere to that view as well. I think it is a bit disingenuous to say that the notion that there is no afterlife is "mainstream" -- most Christians would likely regard that as heresy.

I also didn't characterize suffering as God-produced (as in "God sent a tsunami"). I implied it was a logical consequence of pleasure

I do not think "logical" means what you think it means. More to the point, I think it is necessarily the case that if your god is omnipotent, it then is in some real sense responsible for suffering, just as it is responsible for everything else in the universe.

God cannot be fair in the sense of meting justice with equanimity. But this is a separate matter from whether God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent

You'll have to clarify this point for me, as you seem to be saying that your god is neither just, omnipotent, or omnibenevolent. Have I misunderstood?

jdhuey said...

"...stop believing in that God" (from RB)

I think that the key words here are 'that God'. The god referenced is the tri-omni God - omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. If you remove any one of the omnis the P of E goes away. It seems to me that all the defenses that theists put up for the P of E try to rationalize either the omniscience or the omnipotence of the tri-omni god. Usually the effort is focused on the omnipotent aspect (no one wants to minimize the benevolence of God but that approach is perhaps the most consistent with the OT Yahweh.) That is, the Tri-Omni God really isn't omnipotent because there really are things he can't do (e.g. make a Universe that minimizes evil).

All the defenses that I've read strike me as just special pleadings - all in the convoluted effort to avoid the most parsimonious answer - the Triomni God is inconsistent with the reality we see about us.

Chris Schoen said...

Tulse,

I've cited a recent pope, and at any rate Russell's post addresses the specific beliefs of a specific believer (A. Sullivan) so I'm not sure how relevant it is to this discussion what the multitudes believe, whether or not the non-temporal-locality of heaven is heretical to them.

I know you value truth, and that you would consider the gift of knowledge a loving gesture. I think you would agree then that it is not enough to be happy; one must know one is happy. It is not enough to experience goodness; one must know one is experiencing goodness.

This is not possible without remittance. We cannot know light without shadow. A world of unattenuated brightness is the same as complete darkness; it is blinding. Nothing in it can be seen. In the same way we cannot know good except where it is bounded by something that is not-good. This makes some form of evil a logical necessity to the experience (if not actual existence) of goodness.

I don't argue from this that tsunamis and genocides and childhood disease are specifically necessary for a good life. I merely argue that the desire for goodness exclusive of evil is a delusion. It cannot be satisfied without the cessation of that goodness. A loving God would not offer his beloved a delusion any more than we would to our beloveds.

Brian said...

This is not possible without remittance. We cannot know light without shadow. So god is pretty lame then? He can't give us knowledge, no, we have to use our mundane intellects to learn it? I think you ought to rethink this, it's probably not what you want.

Ernst Hot said...

"Heaven is defiend [sic] as a non-physical place located outside of time."

Hey, that sounds exactly like the place I figure I'll be in once I'm dead.

Tulse said...

we cannot know good except where it is bounded by something that is not-good. This makes some form of evil a logical necessity to the experience (if not actual existence) of goodness.

Does this apply to your god as well? Was he not able to know what good is except through a bounding, co-existing evil? If so, where did the evil come from? If not, why didn't he create humans to be like him, and know good without the presence of evil?

WAT said...

If god allows evil or suffering so the we can minimize it helping others and thus learn courage, or charity, or benefit from the care of others. Who's more benevolent? The god who allowed it, or the people who try to mitigate it. That god, the one who can't just let us know good, is not a good god.

Chris Schoen said...

Tulse,

First, not my god. I don't believe in a supernatural anything.

Second, who says that God, if he existed, knows good without the presence of evil? My point is not just that humans can't know good without evil, it's that is can't be known as such, in the same way light can't be known without shadow. It means nothing to assert such a thing.

WAT,

I disagree. Desiring a fantasy is not the same thing as desiring goodness.

WAT said...

What fantasy?

WAT said...

There's no logical contradiction in a good god, that is powerful enough, giving us all the knowledge we need without an iota of suffering. It is simply odd to claim that this god, that could create the universe, couldn't allow us to know whatever it wanted us to know. God is very weak indeed if it has to rely on us to learn by supplying an incredible amount of suffering.

Chris Schoen said...

WAT,

The logic of my point is made more difficult to grasp with reference to "incredible amounts" of suffering, which is why in making it I wish to limit myself to suffering generally. The question of why suffering need be so "incredible" at times is related, but, at the moment, separate. Suffering can include very modest hardships. Missing a meal. Fighting with a loved one. Losing a job. Even banging a toe. These all fall in the category of things that are not good, not desirable in themselves, not pleasurable.

The question I am trying to raise is how we can know good without the attenuation of good. I am using the metaphor of light because it is less emotionally charged. We all admit the need for darkness in order to see what is being lit (and this includes shades of gray, not just absolute blackness). Why can't we also admit that some similar gradation of non-goodness is necessary to see, feel, experience goodness?

We know things by what they are not. This is just an epistemological fact. I'm prepared to hear any counterexamples you can offer. Without any, all you are proposing is some kind of deus ex machina. Without concretizing it with an example, the insistence that things could be all-good remains not just hypothetical, but logically unimaginable.

Magpie said...

Gah.

An omnipotent god can do ANYTHING. So such a god can make a world that is both perfect - in that it includes no suffering - and as satisfying, instructive, and good as this one can be.

You can't see how that can be done? Doesn't matter - YOU'RE NOT GOD. God knows everything, including how to do the impossible. It doesn't matter if you start wondering about paper cuts, or whether good can exist without evil - god knows how to leave us with NO suffering, and can make good exist without evil - HE'S GOD.

Remember the old question: can god create a rock so big that not even he can lift it? The answer is yes, because god is not bound by such puny contrivances as logic. He can do anything, including acts that seem contradictory to our inferior human brains. If he can't, then he is not all-powerful. Sorry.

So god KNOWS HOW to make a world without suffering that nevertheless contains all the advantages of this one, because he's omniscient.

God CAN MAKE a world without suffering that nevertheless contains all the advantages of this one, because he's omnipotent.

God WANTS a world without suffering that nevertheless contains all the advantages of this one, because he's omni-benevolent.

So.... what's the problem?

Either he (like you) doesn't know how to do this, in which case he's not omniscient; or he can't do it, in which case he's not omnipotent; or he doesn't want to, in which case he's not omni-benevolent.

That doesn't say that there's no god, simply that a god with all three properties cannot exist.

Tulse said...

who says that God, if he existed, knows good without the presence of evil? My point is not just that humans can't know good without evil, it's that is can't be known as such, in the same way light can't be known without shadow. It means nothing to assert such a thing.

It means that god cannot be all-good, since he must have experience of evil prior to creation. It also means that he himself didn't create this initial evil (how could he without experiencing it?), in other words, evil must have an existence independent of the one entity that Christians think is responsible for all existing things. Far from meaning nothing, your assertion means that the Christian understanding of god is profoundly wrong.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Magpie: "Remember the old question: can god create a rock so big that not even he can lift it? The answer is yes, because god is not bound by such puny contrivances as logic."

That doesn't work because of the principle of explosion. Once you deny that the law of non-contradiction always holds, anything goes.

Tulse said...

Once you deny that the law of non-contradiction always holds, anything goes.

I thought that "anything goes" was pretty much what one meant by "omnipotent". Unless one is going to argue that the rules of classical logic are prior to the existence of god, presumably god is responsible for those rules. (And although it is outside my bailiwick, I understand that not all logic systems accept the law of non-contradiction.)

J. J. Ramsey said...

Tulse: "Unless one is going to argue that the rules of classical logic are prior to the existence of god, ..."

One needn't do that at all. One need only point out that contradictory statements are nonsense, so the sentence "God can do A and not-A at the same time" is void of meaning. It is equally silly as well to insist that an omnipotent God can make colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Anonymous said...

He can't give us knowledge, no, we have to use our mundane intellects to learn it?

You prefer that God did your thinking for you? You don't want to grow and live and learn as a free thinking adult? You prefer to be protected and coddled like a child or would you rather set your face to the storm?

Let me repeat, to argue against evil is to argue against life and freedom. So grow a pair (aka "gird your loins like a man")and learn to face life.

Tulse said...

to argue against evil is to argue against life and freedom. So grow a pair (aka "gird your loins like a man")and learn to face life.


That's rich coming from an apparent theist who believes that the Big Skydaddy will take care of them. Atheists don't have to argue against evil -- evil is only a problem for theists.

And if you really believe that without evil there is no life and no freedom, then does that mean your god is neither alive nor free?

Tulse said...

contradictory statements are nonsense, so the sentence "God can do A and not-A at the same time" is void of meaning.

Again, as I understand it, the law of contradiction does not hold in some logic systems (such as paraconsistent logics). And given that it is generally taken to be an axiom, it itself is not provable. (Again, logic is not my area of expertise.)

J. J. Ramsey said...

Tulse: "Again, as I understand it, the law of contradiction does not hold in some logic systems (such as paraconsistent logics)."

But this doesn't help you. Paraconsistent logics are weaker than classical logic, that is, they can't be used to prove things that classical logic can't.

Chris Schoen said...

Tulse,

I think you are making an ontological confusion of what (and where) meaning is. "Omnipotence" means, to my mind, being able to do anything meaningful. If we can't specify a task, we can't ask someone to perform it. If I asked a genie to "make red blue" or to "make hot cold" he'd be within his rights to ask what I meant by that.

The same with an other meaningless power, like creating dark with no light or good with no bad. This is not a potential act, it is a language game.

J.J. is right to say that God's failure to make colorless green ideas sleep furiously is a failure in the proposition, not in God's omnipotence. If you cannot say what it would mean to make good without bad, you cannot ask it to come to pass.

Tulse said...

If you cannot say what it would mean to make good without bad, you cannot ask it to come to pass.

You are basing this claim on human understanding of possibility, and the whole notion of possibility presumably comes from the creator god. Just because this universe as we conceive it doesn't support contradiction doesn't mean that such has to be true of any universe created by a god. It seems to me this is like a fish saying that of course motion involves fluid friction, how could it be otherwise?

But, to answer your question, I can indeed conceive of good without evil, as that presumably was the state of things prior to creation (but not, of course, prior to god). And what else is heaven but good in the absence of evil? Is there some evil in heaven to make people appreciate all the good they have there?

Magpie said...

Indeed. If god is omni-benevolent, and at one point was all that existed, then good can exist without evil.

If it can't, then god can't be omni-benevolant. QED.

Re: contradiction, please take a look at particle physics. Contradictory things CAN and DO happen in this, our universe. States can BOTH exist and not-exist. Things CAN happen without a cause, logic be damned. This is well documented. Go look.

So if our puny intellects (by comparison to god's) can comprehend the real existence of contradiction, then of course the infinitely superior intellect of god can go as far as he likes.

And hell, I don't even have to consider omni-anything. I can conceive of a world marginally better than this one. Can't you? So god can, too, but doesn't make it happen. Forget perfection, he doesn't even spruce things up.

As far as I can see, the world is much more evidence of a hateful god than a loving one. The good stuff is just there to get our hopes up.

dan wolpert said...

This is my first time coming to this particular website, but it does remind me of many others I've been to that discuss God, atheism etc.

What really strikes me about all of them is how there is supposed 'rational discussion' or 'argument' but it's really all just re-justifications of already firmly held, intractable positions.

I can't imagine anyone here actually changing their minds as a result of anything anyone of opposite opinion says (because 'of course' no one can prove the opposite opinion!).

When I see this I start to wonder: What is the point of all of this non-discussion?